Parliament has sent a clear message to Assad: he can go on killing without fear of British reaction


We live in small-minded, mean-spirited times. More than two years into the Syrian civil war, with 100,000 dead and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah openly supporting Assad’s murderous campaign, Britain’s parliament has narrowly voted to reject Cameron’s watered-down parliamentary motion for intervention.

Bashar al Assad This motion would not have authorized military action; merely noted that a ‘strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons.’

Cameron would still have needed a second parliamentary vote before he could have authorised the use of force.

Parliament’s rejection of even this feeble step sends a clear message to Assad that he can go on killing without fear of British reaction.

The strength of isolationist, Little Englander feeling in Britain has been demonstrated. Cameron was defeated by the same uncontrollable ‘swivel-eyed loons’ of the Tory backbenches and grassroots who tried to sabotage gay marriage and want to drag Britain out the EU. It was perhaps too much to expect a parliament that is so savagely assaulting the livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable Britons to care much about foreigners, particularly Muslim foreigners.

Following the Woolwich murder, many opponents of intervention in Syria seemed to think the Free Syrian Army was equivalent to Lee Rigby’s jihadist killers. Now, however, anti-interventionists are focusing less on essentialising Muslims and more on the supposed precedent of Iraq. Iraq is the new Vietnam – the tired exemplar of a wrong-headed war wheeled out every time by the anti-interventionists. They ignore the relatively successful campaigns of the past three decades – Kuwait, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Libya – focusing instead on the one where we were apparently tricked into going to war with bogus claims about ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’.

The phoney parallel between Syria and Iraq was strengthened by Obama’s and Cameron’s unfortunate focus on Assad’s chemical-weapons use as the ‘red line’ whose crossing would trigger intervention, recalling Iraq’s alleged WMD.

Yet it is unclear why Assad’s chemical-weapons massacre was different from his prior massacres with conventional arms. After all, Rwanda’s Hutu extremists murdered many more people much more quickly using machetes. Cameron has paid for the weak US president’s choice of a ‘red line’ that he thought he could safely draw to avoid intervening without appearing a total surrender-monkey. If Obama has to fight without Britain, it will be his own fault.

Intervention is opposed by the usual suspects from the fringes. The BNP’s Nick Griffin is apparently visiting Syria; a BNP spokesman says ‘Once again Nick Griffin is putting his life on the line to stop the Cameron regime from committing war crimes in the name of the British people.’

According to George Galloway, ‘If there has been a use of chemical weapons it was al-Qaeda that used the chemical weapons – who gave al-Qaeda the chemical weapons? Here’s my theory, Israel gave them the chemical weapons.’

In the Daily Express, Ukip’s Nigel Farage begins with a reference to Iraq and WMD before stating ‘Ukip has been consistent in its opposition to military intervention in foreign wars over the last decade and this latest debate on Syria is no different.’

And Labour’s Diane Abbott says: ‘I voted against the Iraq War. At the moment, I can’t see anything that would make me vote for intervention in Syria.’

Yet the distinction between the fringes and the mainstream is blurring. In the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne writes of a ‘haunting’ parallel with Iraq, before claiming that ‘the Stop the War Coalition… has consistently shown far more mature judgment on these great issues of war and peace than Downing Street, the White House or the CIA.’ This praise from one of the more intelligent Conservative columnists for the bone-headed dinosaurs of the anti-democratic left is a sign of the times.

Yet Syria is not Iraq. Bush wanted not merely to attack but to occupy Iraq and overthrow its regime, despite bitter opposition from many of the US’s allies. The contrast with Obama’s foot-dragging over Syria could not be greater. A US occupation of Syria is not in the cards; merely limited strikes against selected targets. International support for action is not exactly overwhelming, but there is nothing like the opposition that Bush faced. Muslims themselves are divided over the question.

Should it occur, US intervention in Syria is, at most, likely to follow the pattern of Kosovo and Libya. In neither conflict was a single Western soldier killed in combat, and both ended more successfully than the sceptics predicted.

As the architect of Cameron’s parliamentary defeat, Miliband must know that Syria is not Iraq. He has again shown himself to be a narrowly calculating career politician rather than a statesman concerned with the national interest. He has distanced Labour from the legacy of Iraq by sabotaging a completely different intervention, thereby simultaneously appeasing his own left-wing and appealing to the conservative Little Englander constituency.

But it will make him responsible for the resulting damage to the special relationship with the US and to Britain’s global credibility, as well as for Assad’s ongoing extermination of Syria’s people, should Washington now follow Britain and pull back. Tory eurosceptics may want Britain to become an inward-looking geopolitical irrelevance like Norway or Switzerland, but we are still a permanent UN Security Council member and nuclear power, signed up to R2P.

Future historians studying Britain’s decline and retreat from global responsibility and relevance may view Miliband as a pivotal figure.

This entry was posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • SebJohn

    “I’m convinced that R2P made the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo worse than they otherwise would have been”

    Well it couldn’t of, since R2P didn’t become a UN norm until 2005. The idea of creating a R2P norm didn’t even come up until the latter half of the 90’s, as a result of the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda.

    Furthermore, most of the various conspiracy theories that the Bosnian army shelled themselves (like the Markale massacres) has been roundly debunked in the ICTY trials against the VRS commanders in Sarajevo, Stanislav Galic and Dragomir Milosevic. Those who say otherwise haven’t been keeping up with the material, or have a idealogical motivation not to.

  • Brownie

    In hindsight the Bosnian Wars were a mistake

    For whom? Not the Bosnians.

  • F. Lopez

    Although R2P may not have been a formal UN doctrine during the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts, the concept of R2P certainly did exist. During those conflicts there was significant opinion that Western democracies had a responsibility to protect and to intervene in order to prevent and punish war crimes.

    It is interesting that you mention the ICTY Galic judgment because it confirms exactly the point I’m making. I would direct your attention to paragraps 211 and 589 of that judgment.

    According to the Galic trial chamber, “Evidence to the effect that ABiH forces attacked their own civilians was adduced at trial. UN representatives stationed in Sarajevo testified that, during the conflict, information had been gathered indicating that elements sympathetic or belonging to the ABiH may have shelled on occasions the Muslim population of Sarajevo. More generally, such elements would have engaged in behaviour objectively putting civilians in ABiH-controlled territory at risk in order to draw international sympathy.”

    I would also point out that the question of whether Srebrenica was deliberately sacrificed is not a question that the ICTY trial chambers have dealt with. The OTP has never issued an indictment for that and so the judges are precluded from adjudicating the issue.

    I am aware that the ICTY’s Outreach office has made some statements attacking the documentary “Srebrenica A Town Betrayed,” but that’s not the same thing as a formal judgment. The ICTY outreach office has no legal authority at all. There is no ICTY judgment that deals with this issue.

    Although there is no judgment, I can point to is the testimony of Gen. Sefer Halilovic (former commanding officer of the ABiH) at the ICTY Krstic trial. He said, “the command of the 2nd Corps and the General Staff knew when the operation on Srebrenica started, but from a series of testimonies, the people who were in Srebrenica, both from military and political structures, we can clearly see that they asked for help, both of the command of the 2nd Corps and the command of the General Staff and President Izetbegovic, but that they did not receive that assistance. To answer your question whether they had the power and materiel to help, to come to the help of Srebrenica, I think that they did. First of all, what was needed was, before the Sarajevo operation, to ensure Srebrenica and Zepa, to protect it, and they had enough manpower and enough materiel to do so – that is my opinion – and not to unleash the Sarajevo operation and to leave Srebrenica and Zepa to fend for themselves.”

    I could also point to the UN Secretary General’s 1999 report on the fall of Srebrenica which says on page 31 that “Representatives of the Bosniac community gathered in Sarajevo on 28 and 29 September [1993] to vote on the [Invincible] peace package. A delegation of Bosniacs from Srebrenica was transported to Sarajevoby UNPROFOR helicopter to participate in the debate. Prior to the meeting, the delegation met in private with President Izetbegovic, who told them that there were Serb proposals to exchange Srebrenica and Zepa for territories around Sarajevo. The delegation opposed the idea, and the subject was not discussed further. Some surviving members of the Srebrenica delegation have stated that President Izetbegovic also told them he had learned that a NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was possible, but could only occur if the Serbs were to break into Srebrenica, killing at least 5,000 of its people. President Izetbegovic has flatly denied making such a statement.”

    On the one hand you have officials from Srebrenica who survived the massacre who say that Izetbegovic suggested sacrificing the enclave in order to bring about a NATO intervention, and then you have the former commander of the Bosnian Army who says Srebrenica’s pleas for help fell on deaf ears in Sarajevo even though they had the manpower and the material to help.

    Contrary to what you say, this issue has never been “thoroughly investigated and disproven” by the ICTY. There has been no indictment from the OTP, and so there have been no findings of fact by the chambers.

    The fact that the ICTY doesn’t investigate something doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. There is clearly evidence that it did.

  • F. Lopez

    The war was a mistake for the Bosniaks too. If they had just stuck with the Lisbon Agreement that they agreed to before the war, then they would have gotten almost exactly what they got in Dayton, but there wouldn’t have been a war and thousands of lives could have been saved. They fought a war to get what they could have gotten at a negotiating table the whole time.

  • SebJohn

    Ideas about humanitarian intervention and genocide prevention existed, but as of 1994-95, what would later become the UN-norm R2P had not been thought of. Nor was there “significant opinion that Western democracies had a responsibility to protect and to intervene in order to prevent and punish war crimes”, at least if one is to trust contemporary opinion polls.

    The paragraph from the Galic judgment seem to be out of context, and exaggerated. The judgment goes on to say that “only a minimal fraction of attacks on civilians could be reasonably attributed to such conduct, which would be, in any case, difficult to carry out or keep secret for long.” Thereby disproving your points, which implied a policy of the Bosnian government to target or endanger it’s own populace, rather than a extremely limited number of rouge elements within or sympathetic to ABiH.

    As to the matter of Srebrenica, ICTY did respond to the Norwegian documentary “Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed” which contains basically the entire theory about a sacrifice of Srebrenica, and stated that much of what the documentary alleges have been disproven in previous trials regarding the Srebrenica massacre. The Helsinki committee also criticised the film for lacking any concrete evidence or documentation for the allegations that the town was purposefully sacrificed.

  • NickD

    “intervening in Syria is right or it is wrong and a self-respecting
    progressive should care more about being on the right side of that
    debate rather than simply being determined to be on the opposite side to
    Washington.”

    Two points. Firstly, you can support the principle of international military intervention (as I believe I did do, viz points on channelling arms to rebels etc, which you haven’t addressed yet) without condoning intervention per se. Secondly, yes to the above, but you only describe a certain type of leftist, imprisoned in dogma and ideology or the kind of outrage that can’t always find the most felicitous words and tends to latch onto ready-made explanations. The mode of argumentation you started the thread with (i.e. bad faith) is only likely to reinforce that, in my opinion. The Euston Manifesto / Harry’s Place-style argument is the complement to its opponents’, who represent a small (if vocal and significant) section of the left. There are ways to break the deadlock and find common ground.

    “the likes of StWC who are more concerned about ‘not in my name’ than ‘do the right thing’.”

    As I suggested, many people walked behind the STWC banner who found their politics trite or simplistic or downright wrong in certain respects. However crude / narcissistic etc etc their slogans were, or obnoxious some of their spokespeople, they were right about Iraq. It was brave of Oborne to point this out, because I’m sure he didn’t much like them either.

  • F. Lopez

    Given the number of shells and projectiles that rained down on Sarajevo on a daily basis during the siege “a minimal fraction” of that could still be a meaningful number, and depending on which particular incidents were part of that “minimal fraction” they could have been politically significant incidents.

    I am well aware of the ICTY’s response to “Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed,” and that response came from the Outreach Office, not from the trial chambers. The Outreach Office is the PR section of the Tribunal and it does not adjudicate fact.

    The Outreach Office’s response did not cite any evidence or any particular judgment from the trial chambers that contradicted the content of the documentary, and the reason for that is because the trial chambers have not dealt with the question of whether Srebrenica was sacrificed by the Bosnian Government or not.

    Regardless of how often they did it, the fact remains that the Bosnian Government occasionally shelled, sniped, and purposefully jeopardized the safety of its own civilian population. Their motive for doing that was to provoke NATO intervention against the Bosnian-Serbs.

    You would have had to have been living under a rock in 1994-95 in order not to hear the chorus of people clamoring for Western intervention to put an end Serbian atrocities in Bosnia, and the Bosnian Government’s behavior was a clear attempt to exploit that sentiment.

    That’s why I say that R2P has unintended consequences. It gives belligerents a reason to fabricate evidence of war crimes or to goad their opponent into perpetrating war crimes in order that they may attain the benefit of foreign military intervention on their behalf.

    R2P creates an unfortunate situation where we have to be very skeptical about allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity because it gives belligerents a strong incentive to stage incidents and to lie about those issues.

  • Brownie

    Firstly, you can support the principle of international military
    intervention (as I believe I did do, viz points on channelling arms to
    rebels etc, which you haven’t addressed yet) without condoning
    intervention per se

    Supply of arms to one side or the other engaged in a civil war, or to a revolutionary army looking to overthrow a dictator, is intervention; it’s just the kind that means we avoid the nasty business of repatriation of our soldiers’ bodies and all that other stuff that creates uneasiness ‘at home’. Which is not to say that it won’t sometimes be the correct, most effective action to take, just that I have a problem with the integrity of some non-interventionists who, when faced with the question of what to do, trot out this suggested policy as if it doesn’t contradict the arguments they deploy against direct intervention. For example, I had friends opposed to our intervention in Iraq who had no problems advocating a supply of arms to anti-Baathists in Iraq, as if this policy somehow didn’t infringe Iraq’s sovereign rights, could not be seen as a naked pursuit of the west’s own geopolitical interests, was guaranteed not to generate more death and misery in the long run, etc., etc.. In virtually all respects such action is materially indistinguishable from direct intervention save for the fact it is an easier sell to a sceptical and war fatigued public, and the ‘arm’s length’ ensures those with impeccable anti-imperialist credentials can look themselves in a mirror, comforted by the fact that we are doing *something* instead of nothing.

    As I say, this is not to argue against the supply of arms in principle, but to argue for it renders one an interventionist whether this is acknowledged or not.

    Related, did you see the poll in yesterday’s Sunday Times? Most Brits are in favour of military intervention in Syria…just not by us. There’s a job that needs doing, apparently, but it is someone else’s turn.

    Secondly, yes to the above, but you only describe a certain type of leftist, imprisoned in dogma and ideology or the kind of outrage that can’t always find the most felicitous words and tends to latch onto ready-made explanations. The mode of argumentation you started the thread with (i.e. bad faith) is only likely to reinforce that, in my opinion.

    To clarify, the thread was in full-swing by the time I joined and my contribution was prompted by a reading of the same tired, glib, simplistic anti-intervention analysis I saw here in response to Marko’s post. It wasn’t written in a vacuum and inviting other commenters (the majority of who I’m assuming would self-describe as on the left) to consider how they might have responded to the rise of Fascism in 30s Spain was not ‘bad faith’ but a crude test of the non-interventionist arguments I saw deployed.

    The Euston Manifesto / Harry’s Place-style argument is the complement to its opponents’, who represent a small (if vocal and significant) section of the left. There are ways to break the deadlock and find common ground.

    It’s interesting what you did there, The Euston Manifesto included signatories who were stalwart opponents of the war in Iraq and existed only because a group of us on the left thought there were certain principles that were worth asserting and defending, whatever disagreements we might have had about how best to combat tyranny at any given place and time. We’re talking about an era where those in the vanguard of ‘no war’ were Stalinists, Islamists and sundry other illiberals. It’s not HP’s fault that attendance at a StWC march meant having to listen to Galloway, German, and whatever reactionary, gay-hating, adulterer-stoning fruitloop they’d manage to get past immigration that week. It’s not HP’s fault that these were the people invited onto telly to give us the anti-war view and asked to write the anti-war columns. If HP hadn’t existed back then, you’d have needed to invent it. (BTW, I’m making a distinction between the ABL posters and the BTL commenters, many of whom are an embarrassment).

    As I suggested, many people walked behind the STWC banner who found their politics trite or simplistic or downright wrong in certain respects. However crude / narcissistic etc etc their slogans were, or obnoxious some of their spokespeople, they were right about Iraq.

    In Feb 2003 I think everyone is entitled to a pass. If you were still walking behind a StWC banner in 2005, you shouldn’t have been. There are plenty of honourable people who opposed war in Iraq who never did.

  • Brownie

    The war was a mistake for the Bosniaks too.

    All things considered, I don’t believe they agree with you on that.

  • NickD

    “the integrity of some non-interventionists who, when faced with the
    question of what to do, trot out this suggested policy as if it doesn’t
    contradict the arguments they deploy against direct intervention.”

    I agree that this happens. But I also feel the “direct”, aerial bombardment or boots-on-the-ground interventionists are too ready to trot out their solutions – solutions ossified in the rhetoric of Hitchens, Cohen et al circa 2002. MAH’s piece fits that exactly – it has the confident style, the heavy-handed moralizing, the superficial, predictable judgments (Iraq should have, if nothing else, bred a new humility of tone). It is virtually indistinguishable from something you would have read ten years ago, and can read every week on Harry’s Place. Hence, why I would argue that a comfortable pattern of complementary arguments has emerged in “leftist” discourse, the one bolstering the other. I’m not trying to be clever or retreat to meta-analysis, which is also a very comfortable spot to occupy, as you might rightly counter – I genuinely think this is a problem.

    Phrases like “combat tyranny” are a case in point. They occlude reality, i.m.o, rather than illuminate it, and invite a kind of tit-for-tat exchange of hyperbolic insults. They set up the possibility of false equivalences by substituting for more insightful, concrete description of particulars the kind of heroic narratives that are too easily falsified (after that, anything goes) or, on the other hand, subsumed into the kind of orientalist fantasies I’m sure you’d find repellent.

    If you think this is an indulgent or irrelevant postmodernish line of thought, look at the language now being used to describe the rebels in Syria by those who wish to demonize them in the interests of forestalling intervention. It sounds very similar to the kind of rhetoric deployed by supporters of the Iraq war to quash talk of a legitimate resistance. I find this fascinating, but not very surprising. You would probably find nothing more than mere hypocrisy or opportunism, but I would suggest that this is built into the dialectic.

  • smileoftdecade

    so the answer is, NO, you haven’t thought it through.

    The parallel, however crude, was to make you think outside of “powerful Britain knows what its doing” inanity…

  • Marijana

    You conveniently fail to mention the Carrington Agreement which Milosevic unilaterally rejected twice in November 1991, which would have preserved Yugoslavia and prevented any wars from breaking out at all, even though, unlike the absurd Lisbon ‘agreement’, it was in fact extremely favourable to him.

  • Marijana

    For the record, the ‘evidence’ that the Bosnian army shelled its own civilains consists entirely of either unsubstantiated testinomy from UN officials (invariably people like Lewis Mackenzie or Philip Corwin) or Serb sources. Even Michael Rose himself, who was notoriously hostile to the Bosnian Government, acknowledged that there was no evidence that he had never seen any evidence that the Bosnian army had fired on its own people, and added that the shell fired in the first markale massacre was the same calibre as three indisputable Serb rounds which had killed nine people in a Sarajevo suburb in the previous week. Moreover, despite informal attempts to undermine the Sarajevo government with false allegations, the UN never pubically accused the Muslims of being behind the “politically significant incidents”. The UN report in fact squarly put the blame on Serb forces.

    The Stanislav Galic, Dragomir Milosevic and Momcilo Perisic judgements all conclusively proved, using expert and eyewitness testimony and forensics, that the shells which caused the Markale massacres were fired from Serb-held positions. The allegations were also comprehensively examined by Professor Charles Ingrao of Purdue University, and Professor Darko Gavrilovic of the University of Banja Luka (and others) in the seminal Scholar’s Initiative. They note that ‘The only “evidence” of ARBiH culpability in the three attacks comes from Bosnian Serb sources’, and goes on to demonstrate the attempts by Serb sources to frame the Bosnians as having shelled themselves, which are easily rebutted. For those trusting souls that believe that UN officials do not tell lies; they show that in at least one case, a UN colonel did deliberately lie about the evidence in order to frame the Bosnian army. David Hartland, head of UN Civil Affairs in Sarajevo, is also on public record admitting to fabricating stories about the Bosnian Army shelling itself.

    On the paragraph quoted from the Galic judgement, it actually stated that, based on the unsubstantiated testimony from the aforementioned UN representatives; “information had been gathered indicating that elements sympathetic or belonging to the ABiH MAY have shelled on occasions the Muslim population of Sarajevo.” (emphasis in original), but added that while it “could not be excluded” that this conduct occured (which is far from saying that it definately happened), it could only reasonably account for a “a minimal fraction of attacks on civilians”. Moreover, the Dragomir Milosevic judgement casts serious doubts on the allegations of self-shelling (paras 238, 795 and 433-438).

    It’s certainly possible that the Bosnian government abandoned Srebrenica to its fate (though by no means certain, Halilovic is not exactly a disinterested party), it was after all an isolated enclave in the middle of VRS-occupied territory, does that really exculpate the VRS’s responsibility for the massacre? Of course not.

    There is just one grain of truth in F. Lopez’s post, and that is that the ARBiH on occasion fired from the grounds of Kosevo hospital grounds. This was partly because the hospital itself was on the front lines. However, as the Galic judgement notes; by no means every time the hospital was shelled was it in response to ARBiH morter fire, The Bosnian Serb ‘parliament’ even went as far as advocating destroying the hospital. F. Lopez almost makes it sound as if the people defending Sarajevo were the attackers, and the Serb army besieging it were only retaliating. As the aforementioned, and more, judgements note, Kosevo hospital was merely one small part of the city, and by focusing on it you ignore the rest of the VRS campaign against Sarajevo, the nature of which can be adjuced by the Galic-Milosevic-Perisic judgements; it consisted of indiscriminate sniping and shelling against the civilian population, and was in the overwhelming majority of cases not provoked. The focus on Kosevo hospital while ignoring the rest of the campaign against Sarajevo can in my view be justifiably seen as an attempt to whitewash and obfuscate the nature of the VRS campaign against Sarajevo.

  • S&A

    In case you haven’t noticed, there already is a war going on in Syria right now.

    Just thought I’d remind you.

  • S&A

    ‘The implication at the time was that if you didn’t support the illegal war, you were tolerating the people who Saddam had killed’.

    During the February 2003 march the STWC stewards confiscated any banners that criticised Saddam and the Baath regime.

    I’d also add that the majority of ‘anti-war’ types also opposed the containment and sanctions policy of 1991-2003 as well. So by implication, your side supported a course of action which would have seen Saddam stay in power, and also rebuild not only his NBC programmes (which he was planning to do – as the Iraq Survey Group has showed) but also do whatever the hell he wanted to his own people. You would also have ended the no-fly zone over free Kurdistan, and handed its people back to the man who gave the world al-Anfal.

    So in fact you were basically supporting Saddam. It’s just that you weren’t honest enough to admit it.

  • F. Lopez

    Who else, besides the UN or the Serbs, would know if the Bosnians were shelling their own people?

    Of course Halilovic isn’t a disinterested party. He was the commanding officer of the Bosnian Army. The Bosnian Government, who Marijana would have you believe was incapable of attacking its own people, killed his wife and his brother-in-law in a botched attempt to assassinate him. They fired a rocket at his apartment and they even planted fragments from a Serbian rocket to make it look like the Serbs had done it.

    Edin Garaplija, a Bosniak, was the AID agent tasked with investigating the activities of “Seve,” a secret unit of the Bosnian MUP that operated in Sarajevo during the war. In addition to uncovering evidence that Seve was responsible for the attempt to assassinate Halilovic. He also learned that snipers from Seve shot and killed French UN Peacekeepers that were putting up protective planking to shield Bosniak civilians from Serbian snipers.

    Unfortunately, Garaplija’s investigation was stopped and he was arrested, held in solitary confinement, and prosecuted on trumped-up charges by the Bosnian Government, who obviously wanted to cover-up this sort of information. Clearly, Bakir Izetbegovic has an interest in covering-up the crimes of his father.

    This isn’t all speculation coming from the UN either — although there was plenty of suspicion. There are also explicit and undeniable examples.

    Richard Gray (chief operations officer for UNMOs in Sarajevo) recounts an explicit example from July 17, 1992 when 10 civilians were killed/wounded in the vicinity of the BH Presidency building during a visit by the then British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. Col. Gray was standing right there and was an eyewitness to the mortars exploding. He was only 200 meters away. He heard the charge from the mortars being fired and then almost immediately there was the impact. He also noticed that the Bosnian soldiers in the area took cover just before the attack took place. The mortars could only have been fired from the Bosnian side.

    Clearly, on this occasion, the Bosnians staged a “Serbian” mortar attack against their own people in order to impress Douglas Hurd and obtain foreign intervention against the Serbs.

    Unfortunately, in most cases, there wasn’t an UNMO standing 200 meters away from every mortar impact to be able to report what happened. In fact the UN almost never investigated shelling incidents. The investigations in Sarajevo were almost always done by the Bosnians themselves, and obviously they’re not going to admit to this behavior. Of course their investigation is going to find the Serbs responsible.

    I would also point out that the Kosevo Hospital was not on the front lines. It was well inside of Bosnian territory. They had no excuse whatsoever to be firing mortars from the grounds of the hospital. There was no military need for that. The only reason they would have done that was to draw retaliatory Serbian fire against the Hospital.

  • F. Lopez

    The Carrington plan called for “Sovereign and independent republics with international personality for those that wish it.” That was sec. 1.1(a) of the plan. That’s the first thing on the list. It effectively abolished Yugoslavia.

    Of course Milosevic rejected it, no Serbian leader could have accepted that in light of the genocide that Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia had been subjected to only 46 years prior when the territory of those two republics formed the Independent State of Croatia.

  • Marijana

    So, in other words, because of things which happened almost half a century before in a totally different context by totally different actors, makes sense to me (as if Serbs are the only people in the Balkans to have experienced persecution anyway…). Yet Milosevic had already declared in March 1991 that Yugoslavia no longer existed. The plan would have preserved Yugoslavia as a confederation of sovereign states with autonomy for national minorities. Milosevic rejected it not because of what had happened 45 years earlier, but, at least in part because he feared it implied autonomy for the Albanians of Kosovo and the Muslims in Serbia’s Sanjak region (whose claim to self-determination under IL was argubly better than Croatian or Bosnian Serbs). Carrington consequently modified the plan: Croatia would be denied any
    military presence whatsoever in the so-called ‘Krajina’ region while Serbia would be given a completely free hand to suppress the Kosovo Albanians and Sanjak Muslims. Milosevic nevertheless continued to unilaterally reject the Carrington Plan because he would not be allowed to annex any areas from Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in the belief that he would get a better deal.

  • Marijana

    Most of this doesn’t really go beyond what we discussed or is obfuscatory as to my actual point, so I’ll just point ouf a few things. It’s off topic anyway, so I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    -The UN never formally accused the Bosnian government of shelling its own civilians. As I mentioned, there were informal attempts by some UN officials to implicate the Bosnian government in self-shelling, although these allegations remain wholly unsubstantiated, or in some cases have been completely discredited.

    – The assassination attempt on Halilovic (which was undoubtedly carried out by elements of the Bosnian MUP) was part of a power struggle within the army and the SDA. It had nothing to do with wanting to provoke western intervention.

    – It’s certainly possible and in fact probable that the ARBiH attacked UN peacekeepers on occasion. Such things are hardly uncommon in the chaos of war. However, they were hardly the only ones to do this; the VRS for example on numerous occasions took UN peacekeepers hostage or used them as human shields.

    – The Bosnians were not the only ones to investigate the shellings, as the ICTY reports make clear. I am not aware of any evidence that these investigations were improper, if you have any (reliable) sources which say that they were please share it. It was the UN for example whose official investigation showed the shell which caused the second Markale massacre was fired from Serb held positions.

    – Kosevo hospital was near the front lines in the North east. It should be remembered though that Bosnian held territory was only 2 miles deep, so pretty much anywhere was near the front line.

  • F. Lopez

    Marijana,

    If you think I’m suggesting that the Serbs are completely innocent in this, I’m not. The fact that the Bosniaks shelled their own people and exacerbated the suffering of their own people doesn’t let the Serbs off the hook for what they did.

    Col. Gray testified about two incidents. He was absolutely 100% certain that the Bosniaks attacked their own people on the July 17th incident outside of the presidency building. Here’s what he said when he testified at the ICTY: “The honour guard of the Bosnian police moved away from the impact area prior to the mortar bombs landing. I had been talking to two ABiH officers on the front steps and they looked at their watch and they moved inside the Presidency building and closed the door behind them, leaving me standing by myself on the front steps and then the mortar bombs landed because the people who fired them had stuck to the original timings that they’d been told to fire those mortar bombs. And an ambulance appeared on the scene almost immediately and there were camera crews on the scene almost immediately to record the poor, wounded, and dead people. And that one incident proved beyond all possible doubt that the Presidency were killing their own people for the sake of the media, and I stand by that.” The prosecutor didn’t even question him about that incident.

    The other incident was when a group of teenagers were struck by a mortar outside of the PTT building as Canadian UN soldiers were giving them candy. That was the incident the prosecution cross-examined him about. The UN wasn’t certain which side had fired that shell because the ballistics report said it could have come from either side of the front lines, but he suspected that the Bosniaks had done it because it was such a direct hit and there was no line of sight to the Serbian side, and so the Serbs wouldn’t have been able to see those kids to target them like that. That was the incident that he wasn’t completely sure about, but he was sure about the other incident.

    And I’m not just pointing to the incident where the French UN soldiers were targeted for the simple sake of saying that the Bosniaks attacked the UN. They didn’t just attack the UN for no reason. They attacked the UN while the UN was trying to put up protective planking that would protect the civilians in Sarajevo from sniper fire, and the only conclusion you can draw from that was that the Bosnian government wanted the population of Sarajevo to be exposed to sniper fire.

    They did other things too, they sabotaged repairs to the electrical grid and the municipal waterworks so that the people of Sarajevo would be forced to go without water and electricity — all of this contributed to the suffering of the people trapped in the city.

    You know that the SDA was (and still is) corrupt. You know that they used guys like Caco and Celo, and that guys like that were two-bit thugs that weren’t above killing Serbs or Bosniaks. The SDA certainly had people at its disposal who were immoral enough to slaughter their own people.

    One thing I can point to that causes me to question the impartiality of investigations conducted by the Bosniak side is evidence that Bosniak investigators were subjected to death threats if they reached the wrong conclusion. Berko Zecevic testified during the Karadzic trial that he got death threats, and attempts were even made on his life, because he identified one *potential* firing position for one shelling incident that was in ABiH territory. He said, “this threat was made during the war. It is well known who was supposed to cut my throat. He made three attempts to accost me, but he failed. He was supposed to kill me with a knife. Everybody knows the name of that person and I said on many occasions that although I received threats nobody wanted to undertake any action. One of the reasons why I resented coming here to testify was that I was provided with absolutely no protection by any quarter as a witness, either here or in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

    You’ve got these Bosniak investigators operating under conditions where their lives are threatened if they reach a politically inconvenient conclusion. If they even dared to say that the shell or the sniper fire came from anywhere other than Serb-held territory that’s what they had to expect. Zecevic didn’t even say that the ABiH had even done it, only that it could have maybe done it, and what he got in return was threats that people would slash his throat followed up by three actual attempts to attack him.

    But at the end of the day, the point that I’m making here is that the whole concept of R2P has unintended consequences. R2P gives belligerents an incentive to stage atrocities against their own people and to put their civilian population in harms way so that they can attain the benefit of foreign military intervention. The Izetbegovic regime in Bosnia wasn’t just behaving like this to be mean. They had a specific goal in mind, and the goal was to get NATO to bomb the Serbs.

  • F. Lopez

    It’s been 18 years since the Srebrenica massacre, and the survivors are still upset by what happened, and I’ll bet that in another 28 years they’ll still be upset by it. If you survive something like that it defines you.

    Surely you can understand that genocide isn’t something that people can just put behind them and forget about. 46 years isn’t a long time. In 1991 there would have been a lot of Serbs alive who could remember what things were like for them in the Independent State of Croatia.

    It is easy to understand why Croatian and Bosnian Serbs didn’t want to give-up Yugoslavia and why they couldn’t go along with Croatian or Bosnian independence. I don’t blame them for a minute.

    Were those people just supposed to trust Tudjman and Izetbegovic? Tudjman and Izetbegovic had both been arrested by the Yugoslav authorities for inciting nationalism and inter-ethnic hatred. Tudjman was a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite and Izetbegovic was an Islamist and an admirer of the Iranian revolution. What were the Serbs supposed to think when they saw the HDZ and the SDA arriving on the scene?

    Whether you like Milosevic or not, he didn’t have any obligation to accept the Carrington plan and I think he rejected it for good reason.

    The SFRY Constitution required secession to be negotiated and unanimously agreed to, and I think that the borders should have been negotiated. The borders of the republics were completely arbitrary. They were, and still are, the product of a communist dictatorship led by Tito.

    If the Croats and the Bosniaks wanted to leave Yugoslavia that was their business, but they didn’t have the right to take the Serbs with them and to deprive the Serbs of their right to continue living in a common state.

    Even Carrigton has admitted that premature recognition of the break-away republics was disastrous and that it sewed the seeds of war. You really can’t pin this on Milosevic. At the end of the day he wasn’t the one trying to break away from Yugoslavia.

  • Guest

    Frankly your argument is ridiculous. Citing the SFRJ constitution in 1991 is meaningless guff – the constitution was long a dead letter thanks in large part to constitutional violations by Milosevic. By saying that the border should have been “negotiated” what you really mean is that Serbia should have been allowed to annex large parts of Bosnia and Croatia. The claim that the intra-republican borders were “arbitrary” – i.e. similar to intra-colonial borders in Africa – and therefore could be redrawn at will is total nonsense; Bosnia’s borders were vitually the same as those with which it had had under the late Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire (except for some territory that was given to Montenegro after WW2). Croatia’s borders were virtually the same as those it had had in 1918, with some Italian territory in Istria added after WW2. None of their territory had ever formed part of modern Serbia.

    Indeed, it’s highly indicative that the “arbitrary communist borders” argument that Serbian nationalist apologists use is never applied to Serbia; Serbia was given Kosovo, despite its overwhelmingly non-Serb population and against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants (the population of
    Albanians in Kosovo is almost the same as the population of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia combined), and Vojvodina, which was not historically Serbian did not have an ethnic-Serb majority before World War II. The Communists awarded the largest portion of the Muslim majority Sandjak region, as well as the regions of East Srijem and Bačka with their substantial Croat populations, to Serbia, even though the last two were again, not historically Serbian. The Communists, in fact, incorporated a similar number of Croats in Bosnia as Serbs in Croatia; many more Muslims in Serbia than Muslims in Croatia; and many more non-Serbs within Serbia than non-Croats in Croatia.

    Before Tudjman and the HDZ were even elected (May 1990), Milosevic had already illegaly ended the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina while keeping their votes on the presidency to represent their non-existent local governments, crushed the Kosovo Albanians, overthrown the government of Montenegro, held a series of mass nationalist rallies to coerce the other Yugoslavs and the Federal authorities, attempted forcibly to recentralise the Federation, illegally imposed a trade embargo on Slovenia and driven the Slovene and Croatian Communists out of the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Yugoslav Communists.

    Already in March 1990 – before Tudjman and the HDZ were elected – the Serbian leadership had decided to prepare a new constitution that would be able to ‘”cover” the ‘new independent Serbian state’, as Borisav Jović, Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav Federal Presidency, records in his diary.

    Already by June 1990, before Izetbegović was elected (November 1990), Serbia had already decided to break up Yugoslavia and create a greater Serbia by ‘expelling’ Slovenia and Croatia from the federation and annexing parts of Croatia, as Borisav Jović recounts in his diaries, and Veljko Kadijević recounts in his memoirs. The planning for the war had begun by the summer of 1990 at the very earliest.

    Before Izetbegović was elected, Serbia had already promulgated a new constitution in September 1990 which declared Serbia a sovereign and independent state with the right to its own foreign policy, It also empowered the president of Serbia (Milošević) to “command the armed forces in peace and in war and to order general and limited mobilization”, and gave Serbia the right to override federal law if it was against Serbia’s interests. These clauses were completely illegal under the federal constitution still allegedly in force.

    So I’m afraid trying to date the beginning of the war to the election of Izetbegović is pretty ridiculous.

    Quite apart from the fact that Izetbegović was not initially in favour of BiH’s independence from Yugoslavia, and actually lobbied against international recognition of Croatia. The SDA party actually initially supported a united, federal Yugoslavia. It was only much later, when it began to reluctantly move towards independence, in response to bullying and obstruction by Serbia and the JNA, as well as the activities of the SDS, which made Bosnia’s continued stay in the federation
    untenable.

    Quite apart from the fact that the claim that Izetbegović was an Islamic fundamentalist is a 2 decade old smear, based on a highly selective reading of his writings, which has little basis in reality. Although he was religious, and an Islamic scholar (with all
    the spooky connotations that may invoke), in all his years as president of BiH, Izetbegović made no attempt to institute Islamic law, and Bosnia remained and remains a secular state.

    I do find it interesting that you defend Milošević for rejecting the Carrington Agreement, even as Carrington bent over backwards to make concessions to him, yet you seem to think that Izetbegović was under a moral obligation to capitulate to Karadzic’s blackmail and threats of violence, and consent to the ethnic partition of his republic – even though Karadzic made it very clear that he saw the agreement merely as a “non-binding, but a useful starting point for the confederlization of Bosnia and the annexation of the Serb lands to Yugoslavia” (hardly the letter and spirit of the agreement).

    Arch-appeaser Carrington’s argument is chronologically absurd. Without any real explanation how something that
    occurred in mid-December 1991 could have killed something that had already died
    six weeks earlier. On 5 November 1991, Milošević rejected the Carrington plan
    for the second time, leading to the suspension of the EC Conference and to its de-facto death. At this time war had already been blasting forth on all cylinders for months and tens of thousands had already been killed.